'Tombstone Tales' revives the past

'Tombstone Tales' revives the past

With a steady hiss, a white cloud bubbling behind and a long blast from her warning whistle, Alice Applegate Peil was off.

The tires on her Stanley Steamer rode easily over the Ashland streets and the pleasant breeze on her face brought welcome relief from the sticky heat.

She was already a woman of many firsts and, although being the first Ashland woman to drive an automobile wasn't necessarily high on her list, it did lead to years of her chauffeuring friends and her husband's customers all over Southern Oregon.

Granddaughter of pioneer Lindsay Applegate, Alice trained as a teacher. She was the first female principal at Klamath High School and was one of the earliest "training department" principals at Ashland's teachers college, today's Southern Oregon University.

When she was nearly 40, Alice married Emil Peil, a Swedish immigrant who was 14 years older. Peil was a blacksmith who settled in Southern Oregon in 1883. Soon he was selling farm implements, wagons, carriages and automobiles.

It's not likely that Alice saw George McConnell throw his famous curveball in an Ashland baseball game, but if he was interested at all in the sport, Emil probably did.

McConnell had developed his curve while a boy in Yreka, Calif., where he watched billiard players put "English" on their shots. He came to Ashland in the 1880s and organized a town baseball team. With his mysterious pitch, he baffled all batters, and the team went undefeated for a number of years.

McConnell was gone by 1911, when a trainload of union members headed for a free speech protest in Southern California were pulled off the train by Ashland-based railroad security. They were members of the Industrial Workers of the World — known as Wobblies. Sympathetic Ashland residents gave them food before the men continued their journey on foot, walking over the Siskiyou Pass in the deepest snows of winter.

These and other personalities of the past return to the Ashland Cemetery this summer to tell their stories at the Ashland Historic Railroad Museum's "Tombstone Tales" event.

"It's a great way to educate people who don't want to sit down and read a history book," said historian Suzanne Marshall, who heads up the event for the museum. "Even though it's only about five minutes at a time, people still learn something."

The museum agreed to take over the program's third year from its founders, the Ashland Unitarian Universalist Church.

Beginning last October, researchers gathered to choose which characters would be portrayed.

"We do detailed research," Marshall said, "because we want to be accurate."

When the research is complete, five-minute scripts are prepared and, by the first part of May, volunteer actors begin their preparation.

All proceeds from Tombstone Tales go to the museum and will help support plans to move its collections into the last remaining part of Ashland's original train depot.

"We're trying to attract more families," Marshall said, "as a way to reach out to some of the younger children in the community.

"All year long we take school kids on tours of the cemetery without the actors, and they love it."

With just a bit more of this excellent living history, maybe everyone else will love it, too.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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